Isaiah 40:6
The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:
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(6) The voice said, Cry.—Literally, A voice saith, Cry. The questioner (“and one said”) is probably the prophet himself, asking what he is to proclaim. The truth which he is to enforce thus solemnly is the ever-recurring contrast between the transitoriness of man and the eternity of God and of His word, taking that term in its highest and widest sense. Two points of interest may be noted: (1) that this is another parallelism with Job (Job 14:2); (2) the naturalness of the thought in one who, like Isaiah, was looking back, as Moses looked (Psalm 90:5-6) in extreme old age upon the generations whom he had survived, and forward to the fall of mighty monarchies one after another. The marginal references show how dominant the thought is in the mind of Isaiah. Isaiah himself had uttered it in Isaiah 2:22.

Isaiah 40:6-8. The voice said, Cry — Rather, A voice; for it is not the voice last mentioned, which cried in the wilderness, that is intended, but the voice of God, who (Isaiah 40:1) said, Comfort my people. Having, with a view to comfort them, commissioned his prophet to foretel glorious and wonderful things, which he was determined to do for them, he here commands him to assure them of the certainty of these things, by representing the vast difference between the nature, word, and work of men, and those of God. All that men are or have, yea, their highest accomplishments, are but like the grass, or flower of the field, weak and vanishing, soon nipped and brought to nothing: but God’s word is like himself, immutable and irresistible: and, therefore, as the mouth of the Lord, and not of man, had spoken this, as was said Isaiah 40:5, so they ought not to doubt but it would be fulfilled in due time. The passage first refers to the deliverance from Babylon, and imports both that the power of man, if it should set itself to oppose that deliverance, was not to be feared, for it should be as grass before the word, that is, before the purpose and promise of the Lord; should soon wither and come to nothing; and if it should favour, and endeavour to promote the deliverance, it was not to be confided in, for it was still but as grass, compared with the Lord’s word, the only firm foundation for men to build their hopes upon. The words are still more applicable to the salvation of the gospel, the salvation from the power of Satan, sin, and death: with respect either to the preventing or effecting this, the wisdom, or power, or merit of man, is but as grass, or a flower of the grass; weak, and frail, and fading, and neither to be trusted in nor feared. When God is about to work deliverance for his people, he will have them to be taken off from depending upon creatures which would fail their expectation; for he will not allow any creature to be a rival with him for the confidence and hope of his people. As it is his word only that shall stand for ever, so on that word only must our faith stand. St. Peter applies this passage to the salvation effected for God’s spiritual Israel, and by this word of our God which shall stand for ever, he understands that word of the gospel which is preached to us, and by which we are regenerated and purified. See 1 Peter 1:23-25. The grass withereth, &c., because the Spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it — Rather, the wind of the Lord, as רוח יהוהis with equal propriety translated, and undoubtedly here signifies; which Bishop Lowth justly observes, “is a Hebraism, meaning no more than a strong wind;” adding, “It is well known, that a hot wind in the East at once destroys every green thing.” See note on Psalm 103:16. Surely, the people is grass — Or, this people, as העםmay be properly rendered, namely, the Jews no less than the Gentiles. But the word of our God shall stand for ever — Whatsoever God hath said shall infallibly be verified, and come to pass. And particularly the glad tidings of salvation by Christ, published in the ministry of the gospel, and received by true faith, shall be confirmed and established, and be a solid foundation for the confidence and hope of the people of God to rest on in all ages. 40:1-11 All human life is a warfare; the Christian life is the most so; but the struggle will not last always. Troubles are removed in love, when sin is pardoned. In the great atonement of the death of Christ, the mercy of God is exercised to the glory of his justice. In Christ, and his sufferings, true penitents receive of the Lord's hand double for all their sins; for the satisfaction Christ made by his death was of infinite value. The prophet had some reference to the return of the Jews from Babylon. But this is a small event, compared with that pointed out by the Holy Ghost in the New Testament, when John the Baptist proclaimed the approach of Christ. When eastern princes marched through desert countries, ways were prepared for them, and hinderances removed. And may the Lord prepare our hearts by the teaching of his word and the convictions of his Spirit, that high and proud thoughts may be brought down, good desires planted, crooked and rugged tempers made straight and softened, and every hinderance removed, that we may be ready for his will on earth, and prepared for his heavenly kingdom. What are all that belongs to fallen man, or all that he does, but as the grass and the flower thereof! And what will all the titles and possessions of a dying sinner avail, when they leave him under condemnation! The word of the Lord can do that for us, which all flesh cannot. The glad tidings of the coming of Christ were to be sent forth to the ends of the earth. Satan is the strong man armed; but our Lord Jesus is stronger; and he shall proceed, and do all that he purposes. Christ is the good Shepherd; he shows tender care for young converts, weak believers, and those of a sorrowful spirit. By his word he requires no more service, and by his providence he inflicts no more trouble, than he will strengthen them for. May we know our Shepherd's voice, and follow him, proving ourselves his sheep.The voice said - Or rather 'a voice.' Isaiah represents himself here again as hearing a voice. The word 'the' introduced in our translation, mars the sense, inasmuch as it leads to the supposition that it was the voice of the same person or crier referred to in Isaiah 40:3. But it is different. That was the voice of a crier or herald, proclaiming that a way was to be open in the desert. This is introduced for a different purpose. It is to proclaim distinctly that while everything else was fading and transitory, the promise of God was firm and secure. Isaiah therefore, represents himself as hearing a voice requiring the prophets (so the Chaldee) to make a proclamation. An inquiry was at once made, What should be the nature of the proclamation? The answer was, that all flesh was grass, etc. He had Isaiah 40:3-5 introduced a herald announcing that the way was to be prepared for their return. He now introduces another voice with a distinct message to the people, that God was faithful, and that his promises would not fail. A voice, a command is heard, requiring those whose duty it was, to make proclamation. The voice of God; the Spirit speaking to the prophets, commanded them to cry.

And he said - Lowth and Noyes read this, 'And I said.' The Septuagint and the Vulgate read it also in this manner, in the first person. Two manuscripts examined by Kennicott also read it in the first person. Houbigant, Hensler, and Doderlin adopt this reading. But the authority is not sufficient to justify a change in the Hebrew text. The Syriac and Chaldee read it as it is in the present Hebrew text, in the third person. The sense is, that the person, or prophet to whom the command came to make proclamation, made answer, 'What shall be the nature of my proclamation?' It is equivalent to saying, 'It was answered;' or if Isaiah is the person to whom the voice is represented as coming, it means that he answered; and is, therefore, equivalent to the reading in the Septuagint and Vulgate, and adopted by Lowth. This is the probable supposition, that Isaiah represents himself as hearing the voice, and as expressing a willingness to make proclamation, but as waiting to know what he was to proclaim.

All flesh - This is the answer; or this is what he was to proclaim. The general design or scope of the answer was, that he was to proclaim that the promise of Yahweh was secure and firm Isaiah 40:8, and that therefore God would certainly come to deliver them. To make this more impressive by way of contrast, he states that all people are weak and feeble like the grass that is soon withered. The expression does not refer particularly to the Jews in Babylon, or to any single nation or class of people, but to all people, in all places, and at all times. All princes, nobles, and monarchs; all armies and magistrates are like grass, and will soon pass away. On the one hand, they would be unable to accomplish what was needful to be done in the deliverance of the people; and on the other, their oppressors had no power to continue their bondage, since they were like grass, and must soon pass away. But Yahweh was ever-enduring, and was able to fulfill all his purposes.

Is grass - It is as feeble, weak, and as easily consumed as the grass of the field. A similar sentiment is found in Psalm 103:15-16 :

As for man, his days are as grass;

As a flower of the field so he flourisheth;

For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone,

And the place thereof shall know it no more.

See also James 1:10-11. The passage in Isaiah is evidently quoted by Peter, 1 Peter 1:24-25 : 'All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: but the word of the Lord endureth forever; and this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you' - a passage which proves that Isaiah had reference to the times of the Messiah in the place before us.

And all the goodliness thereof - The word rendered 'goodliness' (חסד chesed) denotes properly, kindness, love, goodwill, mercy, favor. Here it is evidently used in the sense of elegance, comeliness, beauty. The Septuagint renders it: δόξα doxa, and so does Peter 1 Peter 1:24. Applied to grass, or to herbs, it denotes the flower, the beauty, the comeliness. Applied to man, it means that which makes him comely and vigorous - health, energy, beauty, talent, wisdom. His vigor is soon gone; his beauty fades; his wisdom ceases; and he falls, like the flower, to the dust. The idea is, that the plans of man must be temporary; that all that appears great in him must be like the flower of the field; but that Yahweh endures, and his plans reach from age to age, and will certainly be accomplished. This important truth was to be proclaimed, that the people might be induced not to trust in man, but put their confidence in the arm of God.

6. The voice—the same divine herald as in Isa 40:3.

he—one of those ministers or prophets (see on [778]Isa 40:1) whose duty it was, by direction of "the voice," to "comfort the Lord's afflicted people with the promises of brighter days."

All flesh is grass—The connection is, "All human things, however goodly, are transitory: God's promises alone steadfast" (Isa 40:8, 15, 17, 23, 24); this contrast was already suggested in Isa 40:5, "All flesh … the mouth of the Lord." 1Pe 1:24, 25 applies this passage distinctly to the gospel word of Messiah (compare Joh 12:24; Jas 1:10).

The voice said: God speaks unto his prophets or ministers.

He said, What shall I cry: the prophet desires to know God’s mind, and his message.

All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: the prophet having foretold glorious and wonderful things which God had declared and determined to do, and suspecting that men would hardly believe them, he confirmeth their faith and the certainty of the thing in this and the two next verses, by representing to their minds the vast difference between the nature, and word, and work of men and of God. All that men are or have, yea, their highest accomplishments, are but like the grass or flower of the field weak and vanishing, soon nipped and brought to nothing; but God’s word is like himself, immutable and irresistible; and therefore as the mouth of the Lord, and not of man, hath spoken these things as was said, Isaiah 40:5, so doubt not but they shall be fulfilled. The voice said, cry,.... Not the same voice as in Isaiah 40:3, nor the voice of an angel, as Aben Ezra; but a voice from the Lord, as Jarchi; the voice of prophecy, says Kimchi; it is the Lord's voice to the prophet, or rather to any and every Gospel minister, giving them an order to prophesy and preach, without which they cannot preach regularly and lawfully; it is the same as, "go, teach all nations", &c. preach the Gospel to every creature, &c. Matthew 28:19,

and he said, what shall I cry? publish, proclaim, or preach? for a minister of the Gospel is to preach not out of his own heart, or of his own head, or what is of his own devising and framing, but what is agreeable to the mind of Christ, as revealed in his word; he is to speak according to the oracles of God, the proportion and analogy of faith; he is to inquire there, and of Christ, what he shall say. The Targum is,

"the voice of him that saith, prophesy; and he answered and said, what shall I prophesy?''

The reply is,

all flesh is grass; declare the frailty and mortality of men; which some think is mentioned, to increase the wonder of Christ's incarnation, after prophesied of, as the forerunner of it is before; that Christ should condescend to take upon him such frail mortal flesh; that he should become flesh, and be manifested in it: or rather this is to be said, to put men in mind and to prepare them to think of another world, and how they shall appear before the judgment seat; seeing, if they have not a better righteousness than their own, and except they are born again, they shall neither see nor enter into the kingdom of heaven; which is one of the first things to be published in the Gospel ministry; as also how weak, impotent, and insufficient, men are, to that which is good, which may be meant by this phrase; being as weak as a spire of grass, not able to do any good actions, much less to fulfil the law, or to regenerate themselves, renew their hearts, or cleanse their natures: and this must be said, to abate the pride of men; to show the necessity of divine power in regeneration; to instruct men to seek for the grace of God, as to convert them, so to help and assist them in all they do; and to direct them to ascribe all they have, and are, to the grace of God; to this purpose the Apostle Peter quotes this passage, 1 Peter 1:23. It may be applied to the ordinances of the legal dispensation, and all the privileges of it, which are said to be carnal; and trusting in them was trusting in the flesh, Philippians 3:4, Hebrews 9:10, these were weak and insufficient to justify, sanctify, and save, and were not to continue:

and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field; all the goodliness and glory of man; all that is excellent and valuable in him, or belonging to him, Or that is thought to be so, his riches, honours, strength, beauty, wisdom, and knowledge; yea, all his seeming holiness and righteousness; which are all fading and perishing, like a gay flower, which appears lovely for a while, and on a sudden falls off, or is cropped, or trampled upon; to which a flower of the field is more liable than that of the garden. This may be applied to the splendour of the legal dispensation, which is done away by a more excellent glory taking place, 2 Corinthians 3:10.

The {i} voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all its {k} beauty is as the flower of the field:

(i) The voice of God which spoke to the prophet Isaiah.

(k) Meaning, all man's wisdom and natural powers, Jas 1:10, 1Pe 1:24.

6. The voice said, Cry] Render (as before) Hark! one saying, Cry. “Cry” here evidently means “prophesy” as in Isaiah 40:2, ch. Isaiah 44:7, Isaiah 61:1 f.; Jeremiah 7:27. Hence the response, and one said (R.V.) will naturally come from a prophet, the call being from the same quarter as in Isaiah 40:3. There is no need to suppose that an ideal person is meant, the most probable interpretation is that it is the prophet himself who replies to the voice. It is better, therefore, to change the vowels and read with LXX. and Vulg. “and I said”; in spite of the fact that the author usually keeps his own personality in the background. The other reading does not sufficiently express the distinction between the call and the answer; hence A.V. seems to refer both to the same speaker.

all flesh is grass] The answer to the question, “What shall I cry?” Cf. ch. Isaiah 37:27; Job 8:12; Job 14:2; Psalm 37:2; Psalm 103:15, and esp. Psalm 90:5 f. goodliness] The Heb. word is nowhere else used in this sense. It signifies “lovingkindness” or “grace” (of God to men). The transition from the one meaning to the other is illustrated by the Greek χάρις, and there is no reason to suspect the text.

6–8. The second voice proclaims the double truth: all earthly might is transitory, the word of God is eternal. Logically the section interrupts the connexion between Isaiah 40:5 and Isaiah 40:9, and is itself a prelude to Isaiah 40:12 ff. But to transpose Isaiah 40:6-11, as is done by the two commentators just named, is hardly advisable; logical sequence is not the principle on which the book is arranged.Verse 6. - The voice said, Cry; rather, a voice of else that sayeth, Cry. It is a second voice, distinct from that of ver. 3, that now reaches the prophet's ear - a voice responded to by another. The speakers seem to be angels, who contrast the perishable nature of man with the enduringness and unchangingness of God. The point of their discourse is that "the Word of the Lord endureth for ever" (ver. 8), and therefore the preceding promises (vers. 2, 5) are sure. And he said; rather, and one said. A second voice answered the first, and asked what the proclamation was to be. In reply its terms were given. All flesh is grass (comp. Isaiah 37:27; and see also Job 5:25; Psalm 90:5; Psalm 92:7; Psalm 103:15). The goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. So Ephraim was compared in ch. 28:1 to "a fading flower." The similitude is found also in Job 14:2 and in Psalm 103:15. Homer approaches the idea in his well-known simile, Οἵη περ φύλλων γενεὴ τοιήδε καὶ ἀνδρῶν ('Iliad,' 6:146). The consequences of this coqueting with the children of the stranger, and this vain display, are pointed out in Isaiah 39:3-8 : "Then came Isaiah the prophet to king Hizkiyahu, and said to him, What have these men said, and whence come they to thee? Hizkiyahu said, They came to me from a far country (K. omits to me), out of Babel. He said further, What have they seen in thy house? Hizkiyahu said, All that is in my house have they seen: there was nothing in my treasures that I had not shown them. Then Isaiah said to Hizkiyahu, Hear the word of Jehovah of hosts (K. omits tsebhâ'ōth); Behold, days come, that all that is in thy house, and all that thy fathers have laid up unto this day, will be carried away to Babel (בּבל, K. בּבלה): nothing will be left behind, saith Jehovah. And of thy children that proceed from thee, whom thou shalt beget, will they take (K. chethib, 'will he take'); and they will be courtiers in the palace of the king of Babel. Then said Hizkiyahu to Isaiah, Good is the word of Jehovah which thou hast spoken. And he said further, Yea (כּי, K. אם הלוא), there shall be peace and stedfastness in my days." Hezekiah's two candid answers in vv. 3 and 4 are an involuntary condemnation of his own conduct, which was sinful in two respects. This self-satisfied display of worthless earthly possessions would bring its own punishment in their loss; and this obsequious suing for admiration and favour on the part of strangers, would be followed by plundering and enslaving on the part of those very same strangers whose envy he had excited. The prophet here foretells the Babylonian captivity; but, in accordance with the occasion here given, not as the destiny of the whole nation, but as that of the house of David. Even political sharp-sightedness might have foreseen, that some such disastrous consequences would follow Hezekiah's imprudent course; but this absolute certainty, that Babylon, which was then struggling hard for independence, would really be the heiress to the Assyrian government of the world, and that it was not from Assyria, which was actually threatening Judah with destruction for its rebellion, but from Babylon, that this destruction would really come, was impossible without the spirit of prophecy. We may infer from Isaiah 39:7 (cf., Isaiah 38:19, and for the fulfilment, Daniel 1:3) that Hezekiah had no son as yet, at least none with a claim to the throne; and this is confirmed by 2 Kings 21:1. So far as the concluding words are concerned, we should quite misunderstand them, if we saw nothing in them but common egotism. כּי (for) is explanatory here, and therefore confirmatory. אם הלוא, however, does not mean "yea, if only," as Ewald supposes (324, b), but is also explanatory, though in an interrogative form, "Is it not good (i.e., still gracious and kind), if," etc.? He submits with humility to the word of Jehovah, in penitential acknowledgement of his vain, shortsighted, untheocratic conduct, and feels that he is mercifully spared by God, inasmuch as the divine blessings of peace and stability (אמת a self-attesting state of things, without any of those changes which disappoint our confident expectations) would continue. "Although he desired the prosperity of future ages, it would not have been right for him to think it nothing that God had given him a token of His clemency, by delaying His judgment" (Calvin).

Over the kingdom of Judah there was now hanging the very same fate of captivity and exile, which had put an end to the kingdom of Israel eight years before. When the author of the book of Kings prefaces the four accounts of Isaiah in 2 Kings 18:13-20, with the recapitulation in 2 Kings 18:9-12 (cf., Isaiah 17:5-6), his evident meaning is, that the end of the kingdom of Israel, and the beginning of the end of the kingdom of Judah, had their meeting-point in Hezekiah's time. As Israel fell under the power of the Assyrian empire, which foundered upon Judah, though only through a miraculous manifestation of the grace of God (see Hosea 1:7); so did Judah fall a victim to the Babylonian empire. The four accounts are so arranged, that the first two, together with the epilogue in Isaiah 37:36., which contains the account of the fulfilment, bring the Assyrian period of judgment to a close; and the last two, with the eventful sketch in Isaiah 39:6-7, open the way for the great bulk of the prophecies which now follow in chapters 40-66, relating to the Babylonian period of judgment. This Janus-headed arrangement of the contents of chapters 36-39 is a proof that this historical section formed an original part of the "vision of Isaiah." At any rate, it leads to the conclusion that, whoever arranged the four accounts in their present order, had chapters 40-66 before him at the time. We believe, however, that we may, or rather, considering the prophetico-historical style of chapters 36-39, that we must, draw the still further conclusion, that Isaiah himself, when he revised the collection of his prophecies at the end of Hezekiah's reign, or possibly not till the beginning of Manasseh's, bridged over the division between the two halves of the collection by the historical trilogy in the seventh book.

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